The recent App Store updates should benefit business users, educators, researchers, and anyone who needs to share apps with a small group.
This latest Matpriser app Store improvement – the ability to list unlisted apps – should be useful for business users, educators, researchers, and anyone else interested in sharing limited iOS and iPadOS apps.
The App Store offers unlisted apps
With Apple’s decision involving unlisted apps, you can use direct links to distribute apps to small and restricted audiences, leveraging the worldwide App Store infrastructure.
Apple explains that unlisted apps do not appear in App Store categories, recommendations, charts, or search results. In the company’s view, unlisted distribution could be used for special events, research studies, employee resources, or sales tools, as well as for certain organisations.
Consequently, a company with its own proprietary ordering-and-stock-control app should be able to make it easier to outfit teams – particularly remote teams – with those or other apps they need. Also benefit from unlisted app distribution are educators, researchers, and event organisers.
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There’s nothing new about this. TestFlight and Developer Enterprise Program have allowed developers to share beta apps and test software internally up until now; these programs allow large organisations to develop and deploy proprietary, internal-use apps.
Some developers abused this facility, which circumvented Apple’s app review process and, in some cases, led to the expansion of gray markets that distributed pirated games, porn, or gambling apps for iOS. If Apple were forced to allow sideloading of apps without restriction on its devices, the latter would almost certainly take place.
Developers wishing to make their apps available as “unlisted” apps must first request approval from Apple. You can also access these apps through Apple Business Manager and Apple School Manager.
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Among those who can access unlisted apps in the App Store are part-time staff, affiliates, franchisees, and business partners. Additionally, it allows you to distribute apps to employee-owned devices that aren’t eligible for management through either of the above Manager schemes.
Unlisting your app: How to do it
Those who want to create unlisted apps must contact Apple’s App Store team, which vets and approves 1,000 apps per day, according to some reports. Apps that are already available through Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager must be uploaded for distribution as an unlisted app.
If your app is approved, you will receive a link to distribute the software. This link is accessible to anyone who gets their hands on it.
Apple suggests setting up a mechanism that prevents unauthorised use of your app.
There are a few caveats, however: Apple will decline apps that are in a beta or prerelease state, so this cannot be used in place of TestFlight. Apple has not yet made it 100% clear which apps will be accepted and which will be rejected.
I think the best guidance here is that the company emphasises that the app should be useful to a “limited audience.” Conference apps and employee-specific apps seem like they’ll get through the process easily, but pirated copies of Minecraft via shadow app stores will be less successful, I expect.